Prayer is very high.
It is even above the study of Torah.


In the Talmud, learning Torah (including Talmud) is tantamount to worship itself. The centerpiece of Jewish worship is, in fact, learning Torah. For the rabbis, prayer was an option; learning Torah was a requirement.

“By immersing ourselves in Torah, we transport ourselves back to Sinai, to the presence of God…we turn to the Torah and feel God’s presence.” [2]

The Kotzker Rebbe, when asked where God is, answered: “Wherever you let Him in.”

How do you “let God in?” By recognizing that God is already here!

Recognizing God’s Presence in the world is the essence of Torah. It’s why Torah was given. It’s why Torah is learned. God spoke to us clearly at Sinai, to show us that God is speaking to us at every moment.

“More than simply a means to learning the content of divinely revealed law, Torah study is an end in itself –- according to some, another way of worshipping God. The Torah is portrayed in rabbinic tradition as predating all history, the very blueprint according to which God constructed the universe. To study Torah in depth, then, is to do more than learn prescribed behaviors; it is to approach an understanding of the foundations of all existence and the pathways of the divine.” [3]

What, then, is Rebbe Nachman teaching, in saying that prayer is even higher?

I’m taking his comment out of context, so the interpretation is my own:

What is “high” about prayer — or even about talmud-Torah, for that matter?

“High” means awareness of God’s Presence as the very essence of our lives and in every event of our lives.

Torah should reveal this presence to us.

However, it only does so to the extent that we put our own will out of the way when learning it.

Endless debate over meaning — especially if done so for the sake of an unhealthy self-pride — inserts our will into the activity.

We can win the argument while losing God.

Rebbe Nachman, discussing the need for praying with an attention that overwhelms self-concern, returns the surrender of self-will — of “self” — to its central place in worship.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the simple “petition” in prayer. We can ask God for things, but must ultimately leave up to God the choice of how to respond. In fact, that’s the meaning of the “chatima” (conclusion) of each blessing — e.g. we ask God for healing, then end by blessing/affirming God Who Heals. We leave it up to God. “Leaving it up to God,” we surrender our own will to a Higher Wisdom. Our petition isn’t complete until we have surrendered it to God.

Thus, I believe that Rebbe Nachman, saying that prayer is higher than Torah-study, is saying that self-surrender to the Divine Presence is higher than intellectual understanding.


[1] Rebbe Nachman of Breslav; Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom; p. 181

[2] Kushner, Rabbi Harold;